Concordia captain and company lock horns

2012-01-22 22:36

Giglio - The captain of the cruise liner that capsized off Italy's coast has told prosecutors the vessel's operators, Costa Cruises, instructed him to perform a manoeuvre that brought it too close to shore, according to leaked transcripts of his questioning.

Captain Francesco Schettino has been blamed for the January 13 accident, in which at least 12 people died. He is under house arrest, accused of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship before all passengers were evacuated.

Prosecutors say Schettino steered the vessel, which carried more than 4 200 passengers and crew, within 150m of the Tuscan island of Giglio to perform a manoeuvre known as a "salute" - a greeting to the islanders.

The vessel struck a rock and began listing. It is now precariously lying on its side on an undersea ledge, half-submerged and threatening to slide into deeper waters.

Costa Cruises have said they were not aware of the dangerous practice of bringing the ship so close to the shore and have suspended the captain, saying he was responsible for the disaster.

But in a sign of the growing confrontation between Schettino and the ship owners, the captain told investigating magistrates Costa had instructed him to do the salute, according to transcripts of his hearing published by Italian media.

"It was planned, we should have done it a week earlier but it was not possible because of bad weather," Schettino said.

"They insisted. They said: 'We do tourist navigation, we have to be seen, get publicity and greet the island'."

He also said that the black box on board had been broken for two weeks, and that he had asked for it to be repaired, in vain.

Delayed evacuation

In the hearing, Schettino insisted he had informed Costa's headquarters of the accident straight away, and his line of conduct had been approved by the company's marine operations director throughout a series of phone conversations.

He acknowledged, however, not raising the alarm with the coast guard promptly and delaying the evacuation order.

"You can't evacuate people on lifeboats and then, if the ship doesn't sink, say it was a joke. I don't want to create panic and have people die for nothing," he said.

Costa, a unit of Carnival Corp, says Schettino lied to the company and his own crew about the scale of the emergency.

Documents from his hearing with a judge saying he had shown "incredible carelessness" and a "total inability to manage the successive phases of the emergency".

Taped conversations have revealed the ship's bridge told coast guards who were alerted by passengers that the vessel had only suffered a black-out even after those on board donned life vests.

Adding to the growing debate about the ship's safety standards, Franco Gabrielli - head of Italy's Civil Protection authority which is co-ordinating the rescue operations - said a number of unregistered passengers might have been on board.

Relatives of a missing Hungarian woman told authorities she was on the Costa Concordia with a member of the crew, but her name was not on the list of passengers, he said.

Unregistered passengers

"In theory, there could be an unknown number of people who were on the ship and have not been reported missing because they were not registered," Gabrielli said.

Of the 12 bodies recovered, only 8 had been identified - four French nationals, an Italian, a Hungarian, a German and a Spaniard. At least 20 people are still unaccounted for.

Minor pollution from detergents and disinfectants aboard the shipwreck had been detected in the waters around the vessel but there was no sign that the heavy fuel in its tanks is leaking, Gabrielli said.

He said tests were being carried out daily on the waters around the ship and a nearby desalinisation plant that provides drinking water for the island's residents.

"The tests for toxic substances are negative so far," Gabrielli said. "The only significant elements detected, which luckily are not worrying yet, relate to... detergents and disinfectants used on the ship, for the swimming pool or to clean the bathrooms for example."

Environment experts have warned contamination of the pristine waters around Giglio, which is the middle of a national marine park, is already under way and it is imperative to start recovering the fuel oil as soon as possible.

  • @RossWZA - 2012-01-23 00:39

    Sounds like an insurance scam. Especially the bit about the broken black box

      Hector - 2012-01-23 07:48

      WTF .. that is the dumbest thing I have heard so far in connection with this item.. and there are some duzi's there.. Congrats.. you have been promoted to Malema henchman...:)

  • Jack - 2012-01-23 03:03

    There is more than 1 black box on that size vessel. Captain is always responsible for the vessels safety regardless what management instructs you to do. Sorry for you el capitano, but you are up shi t creek and no paddle!

      gareth.chapman1 - 2012-01-23 07:55

      Agreed Jack. However you look at this, 'el capitano' is in the wrong. I do however believe the company needs to get nailed too, they cant try and avoid responsibilty for this. From the moment they claimed they knew nothing of the captains 'illegal manouvre' I called BS.

      michael.liebenberg - 2012-01-23 10:56

      Jack. Ships only have one "blackbox" or as we call it, the VDR capsule. Passenger ships and ships other than passenger ships of 3000 gross tonnage and upwards constructed on or after 1 July 2002 must carry voyage data recorders (VDRs) to assist in accident investigations, under regulations adopted in 2000, which entered into force on 1 July 2002. If the VDR was faulty, the captain MUST have known that he cannot sail. This is IMO regulation. I have to agree, now matter how you look at it, it was gross human negligance Hope this guy burn in hell. He is giving all of us in the shipping industry a bad name..

  • john.h.viljoen - 2012-01-23 06:50

    So the mud slining begins.

  • Arthur - 2012-01-23 07:23

    Shortest book in the world "Italian book of heroic sea captains"

      Hector - 2012-01-23 07:50

      Gee Arthur ... been up all night coming up with that one ?? Pass the duct tape I split my sides ...

  • Hector - 2012-01-23 07:57

    Speaking from experience I can tell you that the company puts a lot of pressure on the captains to do things that should not be done. As always hind sight is 20/20 .. bet they have done it before so why not again .. I myself have been instructed to take a non sea worthy vessel to sea .. "the last Captain did it .. why are you being difficult ??" VDR is broken .. yep that is what SMS (Safety Management System) is all about .... I agree the captain is responsible and he should have put in a Non Conformance but like any human being he is afraid of losing his job should he make to many waves. The blame for this disaster should be split ... Capt should be blamed for not having the nuts to stand up to the company account bullies and the Company should take the blame for being a bunch of money grabbing bottom line checking accountants.

  • Craig - 2012-01-23 08:58

    Of course the captain shares responsibility. But it seems to me the company ran to the media with a massive smear campaign. The comments on News24, and news sites all around the world, all called for the captain's head. Now suddenly his side of the story is coming out, and we are forced to have a rethink. Yes - the captain was derelict in his duty in several way. However, the smear campaign suggests that the company used its considerable resources to tarnish the captain's name to the fullest extent in the world media. Perhaps the lesson here is not to bay for blood before all the facts are out.

  • Mike - 2012-01-23 10:50

    A load of hogwash - the Master of the vessel is the only person who makes the decisions as he is responsible for pax, crew and ship. He is the person who decides where to go and when to do it. How he could navigate this ship right onto the rocks with 18 - 20 knots with all technology available to him is beyond me. But his greatest blunder was that he did not understand or wanted to understand the severity of the accident. I have been at sea on cruise vessels for 10 years as a senior officer - and on all ships I served on all senior officers and staff would have reported to the bridge, been advised of what is happening. Thereafter all crew responsible for mustering pax would have been able to act accordingly. On the ships I worked on we were drilled and drilled and drilled - as when the unlikely event came; we all knew what to do. I was onboard a ship when a fire broke out in the incinerator room during the late evening. 1 minute after the Captain was informed all senior staff were on the bridge, 3 minutes later a general emergency was declared and 10 minutes later all souls onboard were mustered at the muster stations. What I see happened on the Concordia I can only describe as a major major stuff up - and they are extremely lucky that this happened during dinner time and many pax rescued themselves and not during the middle of the night....

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